2022 Runner-up Kalamazoo Christian Follows Lead Scorer to 2023 Championship

By Perry A. Farrell
Special for MHSAA.com

June 17, 2023

EAST LANSING – Senior forward Taylor Leonard finished her high school career Saturday with 106 goals, scoring what surely were three of her most memorable at DeMartin Stadium.

Leonard, who will play next at Hope College, also had an assist as Kalamazoo Christian downed Clarkston Everest Collegiate 5-0 in the Division 4 Final. The Comets (19-6) had finished runner-up a year ago and four of the last five seasons.

“It was such an amazing feeling; we’ve been working for this all season,’’ said Leonard. “For the seniors to lose last season and having our freshman season cancelled because of COVID … we’ve gone through a lot, and to come out with the win was amazing.’’

The Mountaineers celebrate during their championship win.Kalamazoo Christian came to the Finals with a rich championship history, having won Division 4 in 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008 and finishing runner-up in 2017, 2018, 2019 and last season – when the Comets fell to Royal Oak Shrine Catholic 1-0.

“The first goal really put us at a high point after being shut out last season,’’ said Leonard. “We had adrenaline before the game, but that first goal shot us through the roof. We knew we couldn’t let down. At halftime Jay (Allen) told us to not let down.’’

 With Leonard leading the offense, her coach had no worries.

“Every senior class is special,’’ said Allen. “In January we got all these girls together, and we went through all kinds of adversity with the weather and academic trips and things. Our offense speaks for itself starting with Taylor. Three more goals today to add to her more-than-100 goals for her career. We’re proud of her, but we’re mainly proud of her leadership. Goals are good, but you can’t teach the leadership skills that she has.’’

Everest (8-8-1) previously had finished Division 4 runner-up in 2012, 2013 and 2014 as part of a cooperative program with Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes.

This season’s playoff run would’ve been thrown out as a Hollywood script.

The Comets’ Izzy Suloff (16) and Everest’s Kathleen Thibodeau ready for play to come their way. The Mountaineers, a scrappy bunch, were winless in the Catholic League AA. They finished the regular season losing seven of their last eight games, including 5-1 to top-ranked Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, and won just three games total before the playoffs began.

Despite working through key injuries, including to senior Caroline Cross, Everest rallied to make a playoff run, including with a 1-0 win over Liggett in the Semifinal.

“They played hard today, and we have a lot of girls who play different sports,’’ said Mountaineers coach Richard Cross. “We have some chances early but couldn’t convert. We played in a tough league, between Shrine and Liggett and those teams. That really prepares us to get to this point. I do want to give credit to Kalamazoo Christian. They scored when they needed to.

“It has been a remarkable run. Their joy and love for each other. This is such a special group. They’re easy to coach, and I’m just glad to be a part of it.’’

The Comets wasted no time getting on the board Saturday as Leonard blasted a shot just 2:12 into the game for a 1-0 lead.

Junior forward Sophia Nash scored the Comets’ second goal on an assist from Leonard with 21:37 left in the first half to make it 2-0.

Less than a minute later, sophomore defender Jordyn Bonnema – a golf and basketball all-stater – blasted in a loose ball after a corner kick to make it 3-0. Leonard tacked on her second goal 2:30 later to make it 4-0.

She added her third goal 2:38 into the second half to make it 5-0.

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PHOTOS (Top) Kalamazoo Christian’s Taylor Leonard (2) controls possession Saturday with Everest Collegiate’s Natalie Cross in pursuit. (Middle) The Comets celebrate during their championship win. (Below) The Comets’ Izzy Suloff (16) and Everest’s Kathleen Thibodeau ready for play to come their way. (Photos by Adam Sheehan/Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)